UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo – Karate

CONTRIBUTED BY IRINA

Nagahama Dojo l Okinawa Hai!

On a small subtropical island such as Okinawa, it is usually physically impossible to take a road less travelled. However, if you are up to the challenge, you may find a certain small karate dojo in Yomitan to be just that rarely available detour.

When I got to Okinawa, I didn’t know a lot about martial arts, though I knew that Okinawa was considered the birthplace of karate in Japan. And, after having watched the Karate Kid movies, I thought it would be great to learn the way of karate at its source. The only problem was that I wanted to study it for my own personal satisfaction and self-improvement, not to fight in the ring or perform for others to see and judge on the tatami.

There are many places on Okinawa that will teach you the basic moves of karate, on and off the military bases. Luckily, I did not know about them when I saw the UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo in Nagahama Yomitan for the first time. The location, environment, students and, of course, the sensei all made a positive impression on me. My intuition did not let me down since the philosophy, principles, and rules of the Uechi Ryu style have also appealed to my senses.

Surprisingly, the teacher (Seizan Sensei) is an American – trained almost wholly here on Okinawa, licensed and certified a true “Hanshi Kyudan” – a 9th degree black belt holder – and the only foreigner residing in Japan holding that rank level in the UechiRyu system. He began training in UechiRyu in 1974 in the States, but has been training on Okinawa since 1979. He teaches classes 50/50 in Japanese and English, so there was no barrier to learning the finer points and more subtle philosophies of the art.

His Okinawan wife (Sumako) teaches Yoga on Saturday mornings, too, and is a licensed Thai Masseuse. That’s right – all this under one roof!

Most importantly, this dojo offered me an opportunity to train and practice alongside my husband and daughter as opposed to just sitting outside and waiting for the session to be over. An ability to study the principles of karate as a family has been paramount in our quest to embrace this particular way of life. We don’t compete at tournaments in this dojo, so there is no pressure to beat total strangers senseless in front of family members!  The dojo is a place where one can do physically challenging exercise, relax with a green tea and a snack during the break period, or it can be a healthy psychological outlet after a long day when you leave all your problems outside the screen door and just practice karate for a few hours.

UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo l Okinawa Hai!

As time passed, the learning process allowed me to understand that true karate is not simply a martial art, but a life art – a true lifestyle. Personally, I can apply the knowledge gained long after I leave Okinawa.

Directions: Finding the dojo can be difficult at first, since it is tucked away off the main roads. From Kadena Gate 1, turn right on Hwy 58 (heading north). Turn left off 58 onto Rt. 6 as if going to Torii Station. Continue past Torii Station northward passing Max Value, later a fire station on your right, followed by a large elementary school also on the right just after the fire station. A bit further ahead you will come to a T-intersection with a stop light. There is a gas station on the right – take that right. Go straight to a 4-way intersection with mirrors on both sides of the street, and an apartment building on the corner. Go down that road – it will begin a downward and then suddenly curve to the right, then to the left, and again to the right, continuing downhill toward the ocean. A final sharp turn in the road to the right will reveal the UechiRyu Dojo around that corner an on your left. It’s a white building with a sign painted on the top. The dojo is downstairs, with a black double door facing the road.

Phone: Ask for Seizan Sensei or Sumako at 098-958-1075 (after 6:00 p.m.), or by cell phone at 090-7390-1335 (anytime).

E-mail:[email protected]


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  • May 26, 2017

    Haisai everybody!

    Before I start explaining this Karate style, I would like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Sven, I am 28 years old and I‘m from Germany. My martial arts history started 1995 at the age of 6 with Judo, in which I trained and competed for about 17 years. In 2009, I was in the German military, and I achieved Shodan (first black belt). Although I loved Judo (I still do), I wanted to look for new horizons and therefore decided to start with another martial art as soon as I became a university student in sport science. I tried out several martial arts, like shaolin kung fu, muay thai, Taekwondo, kickboxing and boxing until I finally entered a Karate dojo. But when I did, I immediately knew that karate what I was looking for. The style was Shotokan, but I honestly did not really know anything about different Karate styles at that time anyway. I just fell in love with Karate right away and since I was lucky to have very good teachers, I got into very serious training.

    I guess it is every serious Karate practitioner‘s dream to travel to Okinawa and study the “original old style“ KarateDo. But what are dreams for if you don’t make them come true, right? So I decided after finishing university to instead of applying for a job to apply for a working holiday visa at the Japan Embassy. Well, I got my visa, a one way flight ticket to Okinawa and found a place to stay as a so called “wwoofer“ (WWOOF=World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming) with an Okinawan family in Yomitan. Now I only needed to find a dojo near my home-stay where I could train Karate, preferably UechiRyu (I got very inspired by video performances of Toyama Seiko Sensei). The first Google hit you get when you type in UechiRyu Yomitan Okinawa is this Okinawa Hai article about Seizan Sensei’s Zankyokai Dojo in Nagahama (Seizan Sensei is a student of Toyama Sensei, who passed away in 2009). And since this article made me send a trainings request via email to Seizan Sensei and why I am now happily practicing classical UechiRyu on Okinawa, I thought it would be helpful to share my experience at the Zankyokai Dojo here on Okinawa Hai.

    First I have to say that I used to have a very romantic image about Okinawan karate. I thought that all Karate on this island would be original first generation old style and therefore it wouldn’t matter in which Dojo I end up training. But as I have been living on Okinawa for almost a year I realize that this is not the case. Many styles have been modified from a defensive-only martial art to a sports-oriented competitive system. Now in the face of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, where Karate will be an Olympic discipline for the first time, this is more noticeable than ever. Even the local Newspaper “Okinawa Times“ published an article in which they announced intentions to visit and interview many dojo to find out how they are preparing for Olympia.

    I am not saying that there is anything wrong with a sports-oriented competitive system. After all I have been in competitive sports for almost my whole life. But if you are coming to Okinawa to find a Karate Dojo that still practices an original Chinese First-Generation system, then this could be more difficult to find than you might think.

    The Zankyokai Dojo of Seizan Breyette Sensei (9.Dan UechiRyu) is one of the few Dojo in the world that still performs classical UechiRyu as it was taught by Uechi Kanbun Sensei (founder of UechiRyu). “This system is a purely personal protective Budo art, unsuitable for sports use, with an aim toward polishing the character and soul of the practitioner.“ (Seizan Breyette).

    So let’s talk about my personal experience with the Nagahama Zankyokai Dojo. As I am writing this article my current rank is 1.Kyu and I am preparing for my 1.Dan test this summer 2017. I have been training for almost a year now for 3-5 times per week straight. I also have been regularly attending Sumako Breyette’s Hatha Yoga classes 2-3 times per week.

    As I mentioned earlier I did not really have an image of what original KarateDo really was when I arrived on the island. I knew much less about the differences between classical karate and modern karate styles. So I came to the dojo without really having any expectations regarding the training and what the style would be like. Actually this was a very good thing, because I encountered something so different from what I knew in Germany that if I have had any expectations, I’m sure I would have been completely confused. For example instead of “mokuso“ (meditation before and after training), in the Zankyokai Dojo we do a short bow-in to the Dojo no Kami, and instead of wearing a formal Karate-Ghi all the time, everybody just wears comfortable short pants and a t-shirt (which actually came in very handy, as Okinawa was quite hot when I arrived last summer). In general the training is far less exhausting compared to what I was used to! We even take a short break every training session to refresh with some water or the very tasty green tea that Sensei prepares for us. In the beginning I always felt like something was missing after the training, because I simply wasn’t exhausted – a feeling that I usually had been longing for in my evening sport activities. Seizan Sensei explained to me that this Karate training is not meant to exhaust you, but on the contrary you should feel fresh and energized after training. The key to success is consistency, something you can only keep up if you choose the right amount of intensity. This gets very clear on the example of conditioning. UechiRyu is very famous for its body conditioning, and if you Google “UechiRyu” you will find a lot of YouTube videos of famous UechiRyu Ka breaking baseball bats on their forearms and shins. Such videos certainly astonish people but at the same time make them think that you get tough like that only through very rough and hard conditioning. But this is not true.

    Conditioning is something that needs just the right amount of intensity to stimulate the bone and muscle tissue without bruising and damaging the body. People nowadays want fast results and therefore are looking for short cuts to reach short term goals, whether it’s the nice beach body for next summer, or the strong conditioned karate body to win the next tournament. Other than in sports, where you usually reach a peak at early ages and afterwards often have to completely change your style of training to not wear down your body, classical UechiRyu KarateDo aims for gradual growth with consistency over the course of a lifetime. It is about getting better than yesterday – not about getting better than anybody else. There is no need to rush anything when you devote your life to the perfection of an art.

    When I arrived on Okinawa I was suffering from injuries which just didn’t want to heal completely for years. I had pain in my left shoulder, my lower back, and both of my thumbs. I figured that I would just have to live with that, if I wanted to continue practicing karate. But after only about two months in the UechiRyu system I got rid of it all! I also used to be very tensed and stiff, and although I have always been in pretty good shape, my posture used to be very poor (I tend to have a hollow round back). Keeping my core activated and my ribcage lifted used to drain so much muscle power that the rest of my body moved very rigidly. This wasn’t so obvious in my previous martial arts but here in the Chinese system where movements are executed very soft and snappy while maintaining good posture and balance, it was clearly visible that I would have a lot of work to do. And yes – I also have been able to correct this problem. My posture is now naturally straight and well balanced, and I am finally able to execute snappy kicks and punches.

    In my former martial arts I often came home with a severe headache, mostly because I wasn’t able to let the compressed air out of my lungs during kicking and punching. However classical UechiRyu also teaches a natural breathing pattern during performing techniques, so I never had a headache after training again. With its emphasis on soft power, correct posture, balance, and natural breathing pattern this style has been really therapeutic for me. Of course some of these effects might have taken place so quickly because I concurrently trained in Hatha Yoga under Seizan Sensei’s wife Sumako. The old style Hatha Yoga and the old style UechiRyu KarateDo share very similar philosophies regarding physical, mental and spiritual development and therefore go along with each other very well. I highly recommend taking Sumako’s Hatha Yoga classes also as you start training Karate at the Zankyokai Dojo (btw. she is also 5.Dan UechiRyu).

    I could continue writing about this style forever, but I think you have a good picture of what this training has given me so far. One more thing I would like to mention: becoming more flexible, carrying myself with better posture and living pain-free life with greater balance and proper, natural breathing are all aspects that should not be understood as physical attributes only, but also as a representation of a mental change. The three main principles of classical UechiRyu KarateDo, softness (99% of the time), power on impact (hardness only where it’s needed) and timing are the basic principles that should guide you through your everyday life.

    The physical and mental changes I have made during this last year are tremendous and I am very happy that my path led me from Germany to Okinawa and ultimately into the UechiRyu Zankyokai Nagahama Dojo.

    Sven
    Reply
  • August 31, 2015

    Many of the foreigners i have encountered in Okinawa –since my venue here, had told me something along this line : This island is a wonder. The people, the food, the many sightseeings events and landscapes..its distinctive culture –all contribute to create that sense of marvel rarely experienced anywhere else.

    For me, the choc of being in Okinawa –of living here, came almost as an afterthought. After almost two years here, i came to remind myself that i had finally reached the birthplace of Karate.

    I had practiced Karate Shotokan for several years before. At the time, if the grueling physical training we were subjected to acted as an outlet for my youthful stamina, the demanding precision of moves and stances needed during kata performances was what really appealed to my nigh compulsive persona. Practicing katas always centered me then.
    But as time passed, more and more emphasis was put on kumite sessions and competitiveness, to the detriment of kata and kihon practices –both of which for me embodied the spirit of any martial art. So i stopped practicing altogether.

    All that changed when i visited the UechiRyu Zankyokai Karate dojo in Yomitan a few months ago. Truth be told, my deciding to go to this particular dojo was more happenstance than forethought –i was skimming through this Okinawa Hai leaflet and stumbled upon the picture of the Yomitan dojo. “Let’s see this”, i thought to myself, a sense of boredom mingling with a genuine desire to discover another facet the island had to offer. So i went.
    My first impression upon arriving before the building was muffled –to say the least. The dojo didn’t look as such to my gaijin senses. Set in a calm residential area, it was low-built and discreet –and save for my phone GPS and the honcho i took that day, i would have passed it on my first run despite the facade proclaiming its purpose.

    But the real kicker came once i was inside.
    The day’s session had already begun. The attendees –ranged from preschool kids to adults, were practicing katas under the watchful scrutiny of sensei Seizan. This style had forms and stances i’ve never seen before: more fluid and natural than the straightforward Shotokan i had been used to. And seemingly, slightly different in its approach than the Uechi Ryu forms i came here expecting to see.
    (later on, at the end of the class, sensei Seizan will tell me that this style was the original/traditional form of the Uechi Ryu Karate, as taught by its founder, the late Uechi Kanbun sensei. Most of its moves and stances are animalistic, and are borrowed for the most part from a Chinese boxing style. And he added that its philosophy is centered around this simple tenet : ” To learn how to fight, so that one can avoid fighting” (if fleeing is the best way to attain that, then the practitioner should do just that). You do the least to avoid hurting or maiming your opponent.

    And from that moment, i was hooked.

    All classes are an hour and half long, three times a week, and comprised of katas (individual and in group –called “bunkai”. In between katas sessions, strengthening exercises followed by a snack pause. No combat. No competition. Just learning. In part, learning about this art –which is more of a way of life unto itself; and about yourself.

    Jean
    Reply
  • April 2, 2014

    Hi Irina, many thanks for a great article! I would like to enter a small
    correction to the directions…

    After the right turn at the gas station and when you get to the four-way
    intersection with mirrors and apartment building, take the left turn. That
    one takes you down the road toward the ocean. Keep straight on that road,
    around the curves and turns, past the Rakuza Restaurant, and the dojo is on
    the left after the last sharp right curve in the road. If there’s space,
    you can park in the building’s parking place (be careful for the cats,
    please keep eyes open for them!). If not, you may have to go down the road
    a bit more, turn, and come back up to park along the other side but down the
    street a bit, near the curve (not in front of the houses being built across
    the street, please).

    Classes are four nights per week (excluding Friday night) from 1900, and
    Saturday from 1300. I don’t usually see students on Monday and Wednesday
    nights, so if you want to attend on those nights, let me know a day in
    advance by e-mail and I’ll open the dojo for training. There is no extra
    cost for this. If no one calls for the dojo to be open on those nights I
    don’t prepare tea or heat the dojo for the class, and keep it closed.

    Best regards,

    Seizan

    Seizan
    Reply